You know when you keep chipping at a review and it just never seems to live up to your visions of it? This is one of those, and unfortunately this film deserves much, more more than what I have been able to come up with.
Of all of the festival films I have seen in the last months, it was while experiencing (and yes, I very deliberately avoided the word “watching”) Nina Menkes’s Phantom Love (USA, 2007) at the San Diego Film Festival that I most wished the director was present, preferably sitting next to me, allowing me to ask endless questions. Was that Alain Resnais there in the extended, unflinching opening shot? Because there once again, in luminous black and white, it has been confirmed that whole worlds can be discovered in the sweat droplets that form on a human back during the sexual act… And there, in the sensuous, smoky sleaze of a Koreatown casino, isn’t that the presence of Wong Kar-Wai lingering somewhere just off-frame?
But even though the first reaction while watching Menkes’s film is to connect dots—many claim David Lynch but I’m tempted to proclaim the film the love child of Claire Denis’s image-driven reveries and the jagged, esoteric symbolism of Maya Deren—when the film had concluded I was convinced that I had just been blindsided by an uncompromising, completely unique cinematic talent. Considering that the film floats along on dream logic it’s futile to try and pick out a coherent narrative—I finally just had to give up trying—instead acquiescing to each visually striking sequence which appear one after another after another, all leading deeper and deeper into different states of consciousness. But there’s nothing resembling incoherence anywhere: like Deren in early works like Meshes of the Afternoon and At Land there’s the vague impression that an overriding presence is at work somewhere behind the celluloid curtain, hinting at a story, a scrap of narrative somewhere there, always on the verge of breaking out. Phantom Love brings to mind Shakespeare—“in that sleep of death what dreams may come”—and coming from Menkes, what dreams indeed!
(All images taken from the Phantom Love MySpace page.)